Due to statewide safety efforts, Illinois no longer leads the nation in the number of railroad grade crossing accidents. But the situation is still serious. 120 grade crossing accidents occurred in 2016, resulting in unnecessary death and injuries.
What is being done?
OPERATION LIFESAVER is a non-profit, international continuing public education program first established in 1972 to end collisions, deaths and injuries at places where roadways cross train tracks, and on railroad rights-of-way. Operation Lifesaver programs are sponsored cooperatively by federal, state, and local government agencies; highway safety organizations, and the nation’s railroads.
Operation Lifesaver stresses the three E's of highway safety:
- EDUCATION to stimulate awareness of crossing dangers.
- ENFORCEMENT of existing traffic laws governing railroad grade crossings.
- ENGINEERING for improved warning signs and signals.
Do your part - Look! Listen! Live!
The fact that 70% of the accidents are occurring at crossings with active warning devices indicates that more than crossing devices are required to stop the needless loss of life, injuries and property damage.
1. Support Operation Lifesaver programs in your community.
2. Be a good driver. Obey crossing safety rules and signs. Show you care about your own safety, your passengers' safety.
Signs for survival
Make this a basic driving rule: Watch for the round, advance railroad warning sign whenever you drive. At the familiar yellow and black -RR- sign, slow down - you are approaching a railroad crossing. Look both ways and listen because you may have to stop. Remember, anytime is train time.
A railroad marks the crossbuck sign crossing itself. A sign below the crossbuck tells if there is more than one track.
Some crossings also have gates and flashing lights. Stop before the gates lower across your side of the road.
Flashing red lights are used with crossbuck signs at many railroad crossings. When they flash, stop just as you would at any flashing red traffic signal.
Don't stop once you start
If you start over a crossing and the flashing lights or gates start down, don't freeze; keep going. The warning signals allow enough time to drive over the crossing before the train arrives. No gate on the other side will block your lane. If you stop and try to back up, you may stall.
Watch the second track
You are waiting for a train to pass. Be patient; darting out, just as the caboose passes, may put you into the path of another train on a second track. Wait until the lights stop flashing and the train has completely cleared to ensure good visibility.
Abandon your car if it stalls on the tracks
If your car is boxed in or stalls on a track, get everyone out immediately and safely away from the car. Post a lookout in each direction of the track and, if a train is approaching, try to flag a warning to it. If no train is in sight, have someone try to push the car clear or start it. No car is worth a human life.
'Boxed In' can be fatal
Gates won't trap you, but a halt in highway traffic however might. Never drive onto a railroad track until you are certain you can drive all the way across. Be sure the traffic ahead of you will not stop and box you in on a track.
Be extra alert at night or in bad weather
Never overdrive your headlights. The consequences of ignoring this rule are more deadly when you approach a railroad crossing. You may suddenly see a train when you are going too fast and are too close to stop. Consider the horror. Incredibly, about one of every four crossing accidents involves a motor vehicle being driven into a train. Watch for the advance warning sign - slow down and be prepared to stop when you see it.
Familiarity breeds contempt
Maybe you go back and forth over the same track every day, perhaps several times a day. You have lived here all your life and take train times for granted. But railroads operate around-the-clock and change schedules. You will be just as dead, hit by an unexpected train.
For the motorist
"Lifesaver" signs imply a warning - and if their presence will implant the image of a 100-car train traveling 60 mph and requiring a mile of braking distance to stop, the grade crossing problem would indeed be minimized. In fact, if motorists obeyed all existing traffic laws, there would be virtually no grade crossing accidents.
And for the professional
Professional drivers have an even greater responsibility at grade crossings. Those operating school buses, or buses carrying passengers for hire must consider the lives of their passengers and stop where the law requires them to check for trains before proceeding.
Placarded trucks carrying hazardous or flammable materials; must also stop and check for approaching trains. Drivers of all these vehicles have more than their own lives at stake; and they are also professionals who can set the pace for grade crossing safety for the rest of the driving public!
Common causes of crossing accidents
The driver sees the train coming, but misjudges speed and distance.
The motorist races the train to the crossing, and is either struck by the trains or runs into the side of it.
As train clears a crossing, the motorist immediately starts across the tracks without looking for other trains, and either strikes or is struck by a train running on an adjacent track.
A motorist becomes "too familiar" with a crossing and uses no caution whatsoever when coming to the crossing.
The driver fails to observe and obey the advance railroad warning sign and other crossing warning signs and signals.
The driver has too much alcohol in his system and is, therefore, incapable of properly driving a motor vehicle.
The motorist, driving at night or in a location which is not familiar, travels at a speed too great in such circumstances and because he cannot stop in time, drives in front of, or into the side of, a train.
The motorist overdrives his headlights or fails to properly conform his driving speed to night or prevailing weather conditions.
With air conditioning and radio running, a motorist cannot hear approaching train, and he fails to look.
Driving along and carrying on conversation with passengers in his vehicle, the driver's attention is primarily on the conversation, and he ignores signs and whistle warnings.
Windows of the motorist's car are frosted up or dirty.